Racer athletics value diversity in program

Story by Blake Sandlin, Staff writer

International recruiting has become increasingly prevalent at Murray State, especially within women’s athletics, with 7 out of 9 women’s teams including at least one student-athlete from outside the United States.

According to the NCAA, there are more than 17,000 international student-athletes competing at the collegiate level throughout the country. There are 21 international students at Murray State that participate in a sport for the Racers.

Women’s basketball has two international players on their roster, soccer has three players, cross country has four players, rifle has one player, tennis has seven and women’s golf has four players recruited internationally.

Although many teams are filled with international talent, women’s golf Head Coach Velvet Milkman said she doesn’t believe there is a specific focus on recruiting internationally, it merely functions as a way to diversify her team.

“It’s kind of how it works out, but I do like international players, so I’ll always have a few,” Milkman said. “I like the diversity, I think it makes a lot of sense to have diversity.”

Junior golfer Moa Folke’s decision to come to Murray State after growing up in Sweden was influenced by one of her high school golf coaches, who graduated from Murray State, prodding her to attend. She said the decision to leave her home country was a tough one, but she doesn’t regret it.

“I definitely think it was worth it,” Folke said. “I love it here, but it was hard. My parents came with me the first time I came over here so that helped to get everything in order. It was hard, but it was also a dream of mine to play here.”

For some sports, like tennis, their roster is made up almost entirely of international athletes.

Jorge Caetano, head coach of tennis, utilizes international recruiting to gain an edge over larger schools who have a recruiting advantage in the United States.

“I think it’s huge,” Caetano said. “That’s how we can compete with the best schools. It’s really hard to get the top Americans. They usually go to power conferences so we have to go internationally if we want to be competitive.”

From OVC soccer’s Player of the Year, senior Harriet Withers, from Murwillumbah, Australia, to school record-breaking junior, Vallery Korir, from Iten, Kenya, players from all over the world have committed to Murray State to continue their athletic careers.

Although distance keeps most coaches from being able to scout players in action, the presence of large recruiting agencies in most countries makes it easy for coaches to get in touch with athletes.

“They always send us profiles,” Caetano said. “You sign up for those websites, and they just send you profiles and you take a look at the results, and if you think it’s a good fit, you get back to them and you go from there.

After the initial contact, Caetano uses Skype calls with recruits to get to know them better and to see if they are right for the team.

“You can tell if a girl is interested when they are asking questions, if they want to know about the other girls or if they want to know how the season’s going,” Caetano said. “So, you can kind of get a sense of their interest.”

Senior tennis player Alina Schibol, from Hamburg, Germany, first utilized a recruiting agency before coming to play in America. Schibol said for many skilled German players, playing sports in the United States is a big goal.

“The really good people, they try and come here because it’s an opportunity that we don’t have back home,” Schibol said. “For me, it was a perfect opportunity because I wasn’t ready to give up tennis yet, but I still needed to focus on my future.”

For many players like Schibol, the lure of experiencing a new country, the opportunity to get a college degree and the chance to continue playing the sport they love is perhaps too much to pass on.

“I wasn’t ready to leave, but I was excited,” Schibol said. “I’ve always wanted to go to America and experience the American culture and the American dream. Obviously it’s hard to leave your family, but I was just really excited to have that experience.”